Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why Authors Die Alone

I’m not good at sharing. I’m good at giving and I’m good at hiding my stuff and myself so it doesn’t come up, but trying to balance my needs with others is difficult. Having spent most of my life isolating myself, being pretty poor at letting others in and, honestly, not really feeling too remorseful about it, it came as a shock when my boyfriend moved in with me this summer and I had to adjust.

It didn’t matter that he was perfectly content minding his own business. Although a portion of it was that he wanted to spend time with me, go out and do things, a bigger issue was that just by having him in the room, I felt stilted. It wasn’t as though I hadn’t written in public like the library or Starbucks, but I suppose there is a certain anonymity there that helps you get lost in your world. Yes, other people are technically around, but they’re not really people just background noise.

While traveling from America to Australia this week, I realized several things: I can’t write with someone looking over my shoulder, especially if it’s a guy. My brother and boyfriend are—and I say this as affectionately as I can muster—judgmental whores.

“I can see why you don’t want like writing with me right here,” my boyfriend said the other night. “Because that sentence is terrible.”

I ignored him, but it didn’t help me be immersed in the visualization.

For many the hard part is bringing writing into your family life. A lot of writers start in their later years, or just put it down for a time when they needed to step into the “real world.” For me, I put off the real world as long as I could (hence my writing of science-fiction). I had a boyfriend all throughout college, but we didn’t live together, Skyrim came out, and I was deeply discouraged and uninspired due to my professors’ competitive and insulting nature when it came to art. I didn’t write much then, but I didn’t attribute it to my dating—too much.

My real only scheduling conflicts have been school and work, and in many cases, I can get a little done at my jobs. These work hours, at least, are consistent and predictable; you know you’re going to have to leave at 10 a.m. so it can help propel you when it’s nine and you’re like, “Oh shit.”

I discussed previously how having less time can actually be more productive sometimes than having all the freedom in the world, and it still remains true, especially for those of us who work best under—as Calvin and Hobbes says—“last minute panic,” but that only seems to work if the time is scheduled.

When it comes to family, it’s less predictable.

When, as children, my brother and I complained about our parents asking us to help them, one of our main issues was that they gave us no warning. (Our secondary issue being that we didn’t want to.) It was frustrating to be asked to drop everything to come “now,” instead of having been informed earlier in the day that they wanted us to do something. In some cases, it was obvious as to why my parents didn’t give us a heads up—they didn’t know. And, yes, we were being spoiled butt-munches, if I were to be honest. But it wasn’t entirely undue when you planned out an hour to write and then suddenly, when you finally get into a scene, there’s a knock on the door asking you for “Happy fun crap moving time” as my brother likes to call it.

After I came back from college and learned how to communicate rather than whine, and my parents started to listen instead of assuming I was just being lazy, we developed a better way for us to work as needed. My parents would give me fair warning if they wanted something done, and, in most cases, as long as I did I within a reasonable timeframe, I could do it when I had a moment instead of being limited to their schedule. More importantly, I had my own space in which I could shut the door and block out the world and wasn’t constantly exposed to others.

Many writers complain about family members not understanding that they are really working, and even though we can pick our own routines, sometimes we need to, well, stick to what we picked. One author blogged about how a neighbor was furious when he asked, since she stayed home the whole day, if she could come and wait for a package for him. He didn’t see it as being real work, and didn’t know why she couldn’t just drop everything if she didn’t have a boss to be mad at her.

The story stuck with me because, as a one-time event, you could see where the neighbor is coming from. “You can’t postpone writing for a few hours to help me out?” But what people don’t realize is that the constant expectation for you to ignore writing for “just this one thing,” can extremely screw with your productivity. Authors know themselves, and some of us are most productive at certain times a day, sometimes we need a strict routine to make it a habit. Other writers don’t, but it’s hard for anyone who has never been their own boss, especially when it comes to something as “superfluous” as art, to really comprehend why we need to be stubborn when it comes to our methods.

And, to be honest, sometimes it’s not fair for the writer to ask for a lot of personal time and less responsibilities just so they can write. A friend of mine married a potential writer, had a baby, and wants to encourage him in his dreams. On the other hand, he would come home and refuse to take their son on the guise of “working,” but then she’d come in and see that he was just watching random videos.

I didn’t exactly know what to tell her. I’ve been in that position many times when I said I needed to write and then was caught screwing around on the internet. I was really writing, just sporadically. While many times I tell myself to knock it off, and I would argue it’s more productive to not do that, it somewhat has to be the writer’s decision. Sometimes you do have to ease back into the story when at an especially frustrating part, and it’s not going to do anyone any good to have someone at your back making you feel bad for screwing around. But, then again, there’s often the reality that I am just screwing around and I really should be doing more.

What do you do when you are asking your significant other to a lot you this extra luxury that means more work for them? In the case of my friend, who has a job as well, it meant that she had to come home and take care of the baby while he got alone time. This wouldn’t have bothered her if he was actually writing, but she felt a little used. I didn’t blame her.

I think it’s important to do what you can to help your spouse’s dreams, but she was under no obligation to pander to his delusion. He didn’t deserve an hour of undisturbed free time (unless perhaps she received one too) under the guise of doing work when he wasn’t. Yet, I know damn well that forcing yourself to work constantly isn’t successful, and especially when you’re trying to develop a habit of writing, it’s likely that you’ll have unproductive slip ups, and on occasion you need that.

My solution was to give him about an hour of “nag free time.” This has nothing to do with gender roles despite that we don’t use the word “nag” so much as “be a dick” when it comes to husbands, but a means of compromise for an artist and his/her spouse. Give me an hour of “writing” and don’t check in to see if I’m actually doing it. If I screw around, I screw around. If I write, I write. After that, the non-writer is allowed to access if the writer is actually working; if he is typing away and she doesn’t mind babysitting longer, then let him at it. If he seems to not be doing any important, she can then demand, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! You’re done. Take the baby.” At the end of the month, agree that he’ll show her the document with his word count. This allows him to pace himself, yet still require results, which actually might be preferable to everyone involved. If it proves that he’s only been screwing around, it becomes his obligation to find the time to write around the baby and his job.

Mostly I believed that they had to work it out for themselves and that it depended on how his own work preferences, but I knew her husband had the tendency to be lazy—a huge writer’s fault—and if she was going to support him in pursuing his dreams, he needed to actually be pursuing them. While I understand screwing around, I have no patience for writers who refuse to write, especially if they’re making my best friend pick up their slack.

The problem I found with my new live-in boyfriend was the struggle of even just having him in the same room as me. I was alarmed at how I could not escape into my mind. We lived in a studio and couldn’t really get away from each other—plus my computer was a desktop. I did most of my writing while he was away at work, but that was usually when I had gotten home from my job and was exhausted. I would try to do it in the morning while he was asleep, but he started to adapt to my patterns and wake up when I was loudly click clacking away.

Traveling made it much worse. It was hard for me to ask if he could just leave me alone in Starbucks for an hour—go entertain yourself. How could I explain that I needed to write during lunch instead of talking to him? I was the one doing the driving, and even if I wasn’t, I get car sick, so writing as we went was an unlikely proposition.

Worse was when his computer broke. Something got disconnected a few days ago and we’ve been sharing my laptop ever since. I feel bad for asking for it, (This is what I mean about not sharing.) but if I’m not using it, he (reasonably) assumes it’s up for grabs, and I’m like, “Well, I know I wasn’t actually using it, but I was strongly thinking about it!” I’m definitely the kid who wants the toy you’re playing with, and so I tend to stop myself from saying, “No, I need it,” because, let’s face it, I probably wasn’t going to be writing for the next few hours if he hadn’t picked it up.

Having lost a day due to time zones, another day due to jetlag, and another day to meeting his father and actually, shock, spending time with them, I am very behind. I am not too hard on myself for obvious reasons, but I’m struggling with balancing a new reality of family obligations. I feel a little frustrated and down in the dumps. I had been doing so well too! I haven’t really picked up on the routine of living with this other human being, and I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to try and introduce writing into a family life than it is to introduce a family into a writing life.

Oh, there's also too dogs in my new place.

Don't even get me started on dogs.